Cat Food

Long long ago in a faraway land known as San Diego I had 10 cats. More accurately, they had me. I only wanted two, but they brought their pals and their pals brought their pals. My international students adopted cats then returned to their home countries, leaving us their cat. Our vet found cats and called us. “We found a beautiful cat living in a VW in a junk yard.” THAT couldn’t have been random. They were LOOKING. Anyway, there we were. Ten cats. All kinds. The Mexican kids on my street called me “La Bruja de Los Gatos.” The Cat Witch.


This problem (not sure yet if it was a problem) was exacerbated because the cats were fed on the veranda, outside the back door. One night my roommate and I looked out and saw two NEW “cats” peacefully eating from the cat dishes. The cats — my cats — hung out at a distance from the new comers, watching warily as the newcomers ate. We named them. There really wasn’t much choice since the other “cats” all had names. We named them “Vagrant and Fragrant.”

By Heart

In OLDEN days the poets were less writers of poetry than they were reciters of poetry. People would gather round them in the firelight — even if it was Athens it was firelight — and listen to them recite the stories of the heroic deeds of Achilles and Odysseus, the beauty of Helen of Troy, the sad death of Njal. Even the poets believed that the stories were told to them by the Gods. The poetry was there, waiting for a voice. Poetry is easier to learn when it rhymes, is alliterative and has a beat. The muses who gave the poems to the bards knew this. 🙂

In the eras before mine, kids learned poetry in school and they had to be able to recite it “by heart.” My grandfather could recite LONG poems and my mom could, too. I think the old man had all his kids learning poetry from a young age. Anyway, it was always a part of our house when I was growing up. My dad, too. He could recite Robert Service’ “The Ice Worm Cocktail” by heart. My mom could recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” I like those poems but the Robert Service poem I like best is “The Call of the Wild” and I can recite most of it by heart.

The few poems I can recite (part or all) I actually feel they are part of my heart, more than words on paper. Some of them I was forced to learn in school and they evoke my school days when I think of them (“Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — the beginning of it). Others I learned because they meant a lot to me. Some of the poems are deep, some are silly, some are doggerel, some changed my life, my way of thinking. You see, I love poetry. ❤

In the summer of 2000 I taught Intro to Lit and the first day a student said, “Are we going to do poetry? I hate poetry. I don’t get it.”

I said, “We kind of have to. This is an intro to lit class.” I taught a poem every day, usually one of those I know “by heart.” And usually I recited them wrote them on the board — possible because most of those are short, almost epigrams. She ended up loving it.

“You know all those poems by heart, Teacher?”

“Yeah,” I said.

I’ve even written some poetry. I think some of it’s good, but the one I’m going to ‘recite’ (copy and paste) here is from my Pulitzer Prize winning book of catteral, Cats I’ve Known. It’s dedicated to all the great cats out there and the humans they own.

God Makes the First Cat

God made the world in just one week,
And every creature he made unique
He made the rabbit, horse and frog,
He made the loyal loving dog.

He made the fish, he made the spider,
A hippo to make the rivers wider.
He worked on butterflies and hens,
Then he sat down to think again.

“In all of my menagerie
There’s something missing. Let me see.
A world needs horses to pull plows,
A world needs chickens, dogs and cows.”

“But when the daily work is done,
A world must find some time for fun.
Some time to frolic and to play
Some time to sit in the sun all day.”

“Time to relax when work allows
I must make something to show them how!
Someone fluffy, someone funny,
But more intelligent than a bunny.”

God decided to make up cats,
To give them work, he made some rats.
When he was done, he picked one out
And started to throw the cat about!

The cat was cute, the cat was fluffy
But he didn’t like to be treated roughly.
The cat scratched God on the back of the hand,
And God said, “If you scratch a man,

“Like you scratched me,
You won’t be forgiven so easily.”
God watched the cat for signs of remorse,
But the cat didn’t feel remorse, of course.

The cat just cleaned his ears and hair
And ignored God as if He weren’t there.
“This will not do,” said God to the cat.
“You won’t succeed if you act like that!”

“You must learn to apologize
Or you won’t be fed and that won’t be nice!”
“Now, please, a penitent meow
and you can have a bowl of cat chow.”

The cat stood up and stretched one leg,
He absolutely refused to beg.
Well, God respects integrity,
In small animals you and me.

“You’re right,” sighed God, “I was too rough,
Don’t you think we’ve argued enough?”
God reached down and stroked the cat,
Behind his ears, and down his back.

He was rubbing his hand on the cat’s soft fur
When the cat began to purr.
“What a soft and soothing sound,”
Said tired old God as he sat down.

The cat curled up in God’s lap and stayed
And so God rested that seventh day.

Un-Strip Poker

“How many?”
“No. Wow. I’ve seen six-toed cats but you’re saying your cat has seven toes on one foot and six on the other?”
“A regular Johnny Bench.”
“What about his back feet?”
“They’re normal. I don’t know if cats ever have that digital mutation on their back feet.”
“Imagine that guy climbing a tree if he did. 26 toes!”
“Yeah, actually, the little three-toe cluster is like a super-thumb. We’re here. Come on in. I’ll make you some tea and show you Johnny Bench.”

Terry and Julie entered the 1950’s tract house repurposed as two two-bedroom apartments. “We live up here,” Julie explained as they opened the front door. “A couple of hookers live in the basement apartment.”
“You know they’re hookers?”
“Judging from the sounds coming up the ducts all night every night, and the constant slamming of the back door. I’ve never seen them.”
“Yeah. It’s awful. Howler! Howler!” Julie called her cat, an innocuous looking but ferocious pocket-tabby who’d given birth to a litter of 8, one of them on Julie’s bed. The kitten bonded with Julie and followed her everywhere. From the kitchen came the banshee wail that had gotten Howler her name.

“She’s with the kittens. Come on.”
Almost weaned, the kittens mostly hung around their mother out of habit and a need for security — and sometimes milk.
“Here he is.”
“Amazing. I wish I could have a cat.”
“Who doesn’t?”
“So, now we’re here and we’re alone, what do you…” Terry reached for her.

Julie was nervous. She was wanted Terry, but…there were a couple of  problems smack in between them like concrete freeway dividers. Never one to allow objective reality to impinge on illusion or desire, Julie looked at her feet.

spock_leonard_nimoy_lifesize_cutout_buy_now_at_starstills__39592-1“You want to…?”
“Yeah, but I feel weird doing it in your matrimonial bed,” said Terry, a light edge of New York Irish dark irony sharpened the abrupt cadence of his Flushing accent. “I don’t see why you don’t leave that d***.”
“On the floor in my office?”
“With Mr. Spock looking on?”
“Yeah. We can turn him around.”

Julie had a six foot cardboard image of Mr. Spock standing guard in her home office, an “office” that was, in fact, usually her bedroom.

“All right.”

Holding hands, they walked through the living room and down the short hallway of the grotesquely anonymous tract home. “Hurry up and build those things bub, them GI’s are home and breeding like rabbits!’

Julie spread out the bedroll on which she usually slept. Her husband, well, he was, he was, well, Terry was right. Julie should leave him. She just couldn’t, somehow. She wished she knew why.

They undressed and lay down beside each other. They’d wanted this for a while, but ended up falling asleep in each others arms. No wonder. The hookers kept Julie up all night and Terry?

The winter sun ran its short course, and the light showed pink on the curtains when Julie woke from her nap. “Terry, Terry, wake up. It’s getting late.”

“We just SLEPT????”
“I guess we needed it.”

Julie stood and wrapped herself in the quilt her grandmother had made for her long, long ago and far, far away. Terry saw a pack of cards on the desk. Julie and her husband sometimes played cribbage.

“Can you play poker?”
“OK. Sit down. I’ll deal. Every time you lose or I lose, we have to put on a piece of clothing.”
“Yeah! UN-strip poker!”
“Exactly. But I get to tell YOU what piece of clothes to put on and you get to tell me, OK?

Neither Julie nor Terry was very good at the game and the hands they drew weren’t great, so before long they sat on the floor of the living room in socks. They were halted in mid-giggle by the sound of a key in the lock.

“Shit. It’s him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me he was coming home?”
“He’s early.”
“What should we do?” Terry stood about to make a dash for the office and his clothes.

“What’s going on?”
“We’re playing poker. John, this is Terry.”

Terry, well-trained, reached out to shake hands with Julie’s husband.

“Terry needs a ride home.”
“What the F*** are you doing?”
“We’re playing poker.”

Terry had gone into Julie’s office and pulled on his clothes.

“What HAVE you been doing?”
“Nothing. I need to take Terry home.”
“I’ll take Terry home,” said John.
“I don’t think so. Not without me.”
“I have my bike.”
“No, it’s OK, Terry. It’s my car too. We’ll put your bike on the rack.”
“My dad bought the car,” said John.
“No. Your dad made the down-payment. I made the payments.” Julie thought of all the days and nights working in the ski factory paying for the car and putting John through school. “Damn,” she thought. “It’s MY car!”

The three got into the VW Bug. John enraged, Julie and Terry both terrified. They dropped Terry and went to a Mexican restaurant and ate in silence. Julie knew John would not do anything until the event had festered inside for a while, fermenting and fulfilling itself in blind rage. John would not talk about it or think about why it had happened or the part he might have played in it. 

The next day, Terry called. “I don’t see why you think that guy is so bad. I thought he’d beat me up but he just gave me a ride home! Maybe you’re wrong about him.”
“I’m not wrong about him.”
“Well, it was incredibly embarrassing, sitting their naked in your living room when your husband came in. Are you OK? Did he do anything to you?”
“No. It hasn’t registered yet. But it will.”
“Why do you stay?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t fucking KNOW.” Julie started to cry.
“Are you coming to school?”
“I don’t know how. He took my bike to work with him.”